Thursday, March 31, 2016

The 'ike of subtle

'ike. 1. to see, know, feel, greet, recognize, understand - Hawaiian Dictionary, Pukui & Elbert

Spring moves steadily forward. Trees rooted. Blossoms unfurl. Birds thrill. Pollens riot. Cool nights and warm daytime. The moon rises in early morning, sets mid-day. This new spring I live with the riotous pollens with new remedies and old. Like the trees, blossoms and birds I dig into the experience of new life and launch myself. Into a new season.

Two teachers feed me 'ike (knowledge) to fold into myself. I listen again to Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele speak about The Living Earth, and her book Ka Honua Ola. She reminds me to remember, and practice several things: genealogy is exciting, and important; chants are timeless; 'ike comes in waves ... she needed decades to understand the Kumulipo (The Hawaiian Creation Chant); lessons were taught subtlely; Trust is vital ... and so much more.

"[...]Entering the world of ancestral memory requires a certain mindset. Take time to enjoy and understand each phrase or line before going on. Remember, this gift took many lifetimes to wrap. Don't be in a hurry to unwrap it and becoming frustrated in doing so. The meaning and force of ancestral knowledge will unfold precept upon precept, and each has a code to inspire you on to the next level.[...]"

Listening and watching Kanahele as she and the interviewer are seated along the slope of Pele in action, with an 'ole moon in the heavens, the power of place and enduring gift-giving and reciprocity is massaged into the viewer. We are given reasons to trust in the present unfoldings, softening our ground, and slowly and personally dig deeply for the roots of The Living Earth.

The other teacher fed me through an interview published in the April edition of Sun Magazine. Robin Wall Kimmerer answered questions posed by freelance journalist Leath Tonino about her life as an Indigenous scientist living and teaching two ways of knowing. In equal and different versions of sharing their experiences as Indigenous teachers, Kimmerer and Kanahele reinforce my trust in living now. I am a grateful learner of Kimmerer's work and writing. The interview was a spring treat to enjoy in compact form, encapsulating the subtle and powerful nature of teaching from an Indigenous voice.

The entire interview is well-worth the investment of a thoughtful read, and mulling. But a few choice questions and answers beckon me. (I have edited Kimmerer's answers.)

Tonino asks: You've said that an indigenous elder might see the scientific method, which asks a direct question, as disrespectful. Why?
Kimmerer: Because the organism being questioned has its own intentions, its own agency in the world. It is rude of us to prod this sovereign being and ask: How come you're doing that? that way?...that color? How come ..." To someone who views each organism as a potial teacher, this type of pushy questioning is just plain rude...We don't need to know how something works. We need to know that it works to keep natural systems intact. We should remember that our curiosity exists in the human realm. It's sometimes said that we humans are the "youngest brothers of creation." We haven't been around very long, and we should be humble and pay attention..."
I relished the followup question, and Kimmerer's answer.
Tonino: If asking a direct question of the natural world is disrespectful, what's the alternative?
Kimmerer: We can find creative ways of pursuing inquiry that are courteous and delicate and don't demand information but instead search for it... Patience and commitment are the key to learning from a being or a place. Unfortunately the institutions of science don't commonly make room for the slow, steady approach."

The interview between Tonino and Kimmerer is skillfully inclusive of the value of the scientific method of knowing. When asked about the two different ways of knowing -- the traditional knowledge and science:

Tonino: Returning to the question of synthesizing science and traditional knowledge: Are there arguments for keeping these ways of knowing separate and, in a sense, pure?
Kimmerer: Absolutely. I am not talking about blending knowledge. With blending, you're left with neither of the original elements. They both disappear. Instead of blending, we need knowledge symbiosis, or relationship. I think of the metaphor of the Three Sisters garden. When you plant the Three sisters--corn, beans, and squash-- together, they complement one another and produce more nourishment than if they were grown in isolation..."
Closing the interview Tonino asks Kimmerer how frustration and anger fueled her work. I eagerly read her answer.

Tonino: On the whole, your writing is hopeful and celebratory. To what degree have frustration and anger also fueled your work?
Kimmerer: I remember being acutely disappointed when what I thought was important about plants growing up was dismissed by the scientific establishment. I remember wanting to know more about Potawatomi culture as a young person, and my family saying, "We can't tell you. We don't know it anymore." our heritage had been taken away from us by the Carlisle Indian School. It was one of many such brainwashing institutions. I remember being outraged by this as a child. I wanted to know why, if they could build a school that taught us not to be Indian, we couldn't build a school tht taught us to reclaim that heritage. Loss and anger can be powerful creative forces. My work with the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment comes from the outrage I felt as a girl. I wanted to created opportunities for that reclamation."

My journey of decolonization is a life-long journey. I continue to discover where I have hidden my self in attempts to 'blend-in' rather than grow as a sovereign being. In fits and starts, and bursts of insight I uncover the roots that lie just under the surface of my person, under my living earth. A visit to The Wing Luke museum leads me straight into the culture I have denied; my ancestors tattoo me with their 'ike. The inks find my blood, and flow differently. As I continue to live with this powerful subtle current, the symptoms and remedies for living with MCS teach me to observe and express the inexhaustible passion for being on this Living Earth. It's NOT always pretty, now easy, sometimes cruel and often messy. But. The roots endure; sometimes a seed is not enough to sustain or flourish. Digging deep or power-filled language, such as the Potawatomi word puhpowee, which means "the force that causes mushrooms to rise up out of the earth at night" is the power necessary.

I am a creator. I create story that is both mine and every blood. It is medicine, and homeopathic in its affect: subtle. Subtle because it works with my body AT THE MOMENT. It is in many ways a traditional and slower form of remedy that tattoos me internally. Can you see it on my skin as a form of self-identification? No. Could you see it if you could read my blood, or read my work ... the medicine stories? Perhaps.

The medicine is in the stone, in the calcium of barnacle, the patterns left on shells from the tannins of tree bark mashed with the tide, shells left after birds have feasted on the flesh; or it is in the shape of an incidental discover of a stone like the 'never-endingness' of an 'Ole Pau Po. The message is transmitted to those who are in the know. In the 'ike.

My daughter-in-law emailed me after I sent her the message stones (pictured above). She asked: are you chamane? what is the Hawaiian word? I replied and said, 'No, I am not a shaman. The Hawaiian word might be kahuna. I am not kahuna. I am a makua o'o a maturing human being, hopefully getting a little wiser with time.'

I sent her more messages on clam shells found at the Muliwai. Never underestimate the power of subtle.

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